At Voices for Ohio's Children, we do exactly what our name implies: We raise our voice for Ohio's nearly 3 million kids. We advocate for policies to ensure that all children become safe, educated, healthy, connected and employable and we strongly support passage of House Bill 536, which requires immunizations for children in child care and preschool settings as a way to improve the health of Ohio's children.
It's hard to believe, but Ohio is the only state in the nation without such a law. Ohio has more than 4,100 licensed child care centers and programs, serving more than 250,000 children. Most of these settings do an excellent job maintaining the health and safety of their programs.
Ohio law requires children entering kindergarten to have the vaccines recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having this law protects the students who attend and staff who work at schools. Child care centers and preschools also should have the law on their side when it comes to immunization.
Vaccines are particularly important in the effort to keep child care centers and preschools in the best condition they can be, because, on their own, young children aren't able to help prevent the spread of germs. Despite the best efforts of teachers and staff, a group of toddlers is practically guaranteed to spread germs as they play, nap, learn and eat together. Vaccination protects them against serious and sometimes deadly childhood illnesses.
Younger children are especially vulnerable to vaccine-preventable illnesses. For example, most of the children hospitalized with whooping cough are less than a year old. As another example, rotavirus causes severe vomiting and diarrhea in children. Though the vaccine is up to 98 percent effective in preventing rotavirus, less than two-thirds of Ohio children under the age of 3 are vaccinated.
Unfortunately, myths and misinformation spread on the Internet lead some parents to decline vaccination against the advice of their pediatrician. The safety of vaccines has been studied extensively and proven repeatedly. A study published in the journal Pediatrics this summer affirms that vaccination is safe and indeed "one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20 century."
When a child does not get the recommended vaccines, he or she is not the only one affected. Siblings, parents, grandparents and educators may all be exposed if the child becomes ill. In fact, the whole community is at greater risk because of a principle called herd immunity. The principle basically means that when most members of a population are immunized, it's hard for a communicable disease to take hold and spread. When fewer people are immunized, it's easier for an outbreak to occur. Ohio has had two outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases this year - mumps and measles. Some people have suffered serious complications, including deafness and sterility. In addition, some communities are reporting increased incidence of whooping cough, which can be fatal in infants.
The benefits of vaccination go beyond public health. Staying healthy means kids stay in school, so their education is enhanced. And their parents don't have to stay home with a sick child, so the economy benefits as well.
As we approach the start of a new school year, it's a great time for parents to check their child's vaccination schedule.
Many child care centers and preschools require children to be vaccinated as a condition of enrollment. This is a business decision they make to help ensure the health and safety of both the children and the staff. A state law requiring vaccines for children in these settings would support the efforts of these business owners and ensure that all centers offer the same protections.
Ohio's status as the only state without a child care vaccine requirement can be fixed through HB 536. The bill sponsors, state Reps. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, and Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, are to be commended for their bipartisan work to correct this situation.
Children win big, when policymakers make the right decisions.
We urge the General Assembly to pass House Bill 536 and join the other 49 states in standing up for children's health.
(Oxley is chief executive officer of Voices for Ohio's Children, a nonpartisan voice that helps ensure that the needs of Ohio's 3 million children are prioritized at the local, state and federal levels.)